Connecting via photography at Homeless Connect Perth, 2009
As a photographer, one sometimes gets caught up in the need to earn some dollars, gain some exposure and exhibit one’s art; so much so that it’s often easy to forget that, sometimes, shooting for others can be a whole lot more rewarding than shooting for yourself.
Running the photo booth at this year’s Homeless Connect has been one of the most memorable and enriching photographic experiences I’ve had since giving serious thought to pursuing this photography gig.
Homeless Connect is an all-day event that brings together Perth City Council, state government, federal government, businesses and community groups to provide free services to homeless people for a day. This year, Homeless Connect played host to more than 400 homeless persons who visited us at the Citiplace Community Centre to avail themselves of services ranging from welfare, employment, counselling, training, law and health.
Alongside the services on offer and the activities for the partaking, our little photo booth proved very popular with our homeless guests.
It’s easy to reduce the homeless to a stereotype, often a negative one. It’s not a helpful stereotype, replete with (often incorrect) assumptions about why the homeless are homeless, which are counterproductive to assisting them in accessing important support services,
On this Wednesday, I photographed more than 100 people at Homeless Connect. Like any group, they are a diverse mob – men who sell the Big Issue in the city, members of the Street Choir, families who struggle without a home (having been forced out by the rising rentals in Perth), young men who have lost their way through their struggle with alcohol and drugs, teenagers who have taken to the streets because it is no longer safe for them to remain at home, those with mental disabilities who have somehow fallen through the cracks in our system…
There are so many different faces, so many different stories with one common thread: these are people who currently do not have secure accommodation. Whether they sleep rough (in the streets), or couch surf, or make use of crisis accomodation, these individuals do not have the security that we take for granted: a home to go to at night and the knowledge that tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year, we still have this place we call home.
What I remember most about Homeless Connect was the amazing spirit that everyone had on that day. Young or old, male or female, they wanted their photo taken and wanted prints, not for themselves, but for friends and to send to families for Christmas.
I remember the three sisters who had come from the dentist’s with swollen cheeks, but still keen to pose for a photo. Or Trev, an energetic, personable fella who, like most Aussie blokes, was very hesitant about being photographed until one of the other volunteers fronted up to the camera with him. Then, you couldn’t pull him away from the photo booth.
Stuart. with his enormous hat and amazingly expressive face. Mark and Samantha and their gorgeous four-month old baby boy who made their rounds with their worldly belongings in a suitcase. Gigantic Justin and Trisha, who knew how to cuddle before the camera.
Tranh, who posed with such quiet pride and dignity. Sarah and her mum who loved the camera and whom the camera loved in return. Tattooed and mustachioed Rick, who looked like a tough guy but who was really a softie.
Don and Sandy whose love for each other was palpable in their photograph. Bill who wanted a passport sized photo but got more in the bargain.
And Christopher, the last guest I photographed, who wanted a great photo of himself (I hope I did him justice).
I’m not sure if taking photographs of these individuals made any direct contribution to their welfare, but I’m confident that for the few minutes in which they stood in front of the camera, surrounded by the lights, and when they saw their portraits in print, they felt good about themselves and got a great buzz out of being part of the action. I could tell by the way their faces lit up with smiles when they saw their own photographs.
I guess, that’s one small, albeit, temporary difference.
Here are the amazing, beautiful, gorgeous, courageous, marvellous and awesome faces of Homeless Connect Perth 2009: